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Asia: Byambasaikhan offers Mongolia a fresh exchange of ideas

Rich in resources, Mongolia has yet to find a way to mine them in such a way to enable the country to throw off its communist legacy. There are high hopes the new head of the state investment bank may be the man for the job.

Bayanjargal Byambasaikhan-600

Bayanjargal Byambasaikhan, CEO of state-owned investment house Erdenes Mongol

In doing the rounds of Ulaanbaatar, it doesn’t take long to encounter someone who used to work at the Mongolian Stock Exchange.

Former MSE staff seem to be deposited most everywhere across the narrow universe that is Corporate Mongolia; at its handful of banks, its few private equity firms, the central bank and the state-owned mining houses.

With five chief executives and myriad board members since 2010, the MSE is virtually a local version of LinkedIn, a transit lounge of talent.

But the decidedly-sleepy MSE, housed on Ulaanbaatar’s Chinggis Khan Square in a pink, neoclassical confection locals know better as their former Children’s Theatre, is no Insead-sur-tundra. Rather, the headcount passing through its doors speaks to how capital markets have struggled to develop here, 25 years after Mongolia threw off communism to embrace market economics.

The much-anticipated transformation of this vast and resource-rich nation from frozen backwater into the ‘Qatar-of-the Steppe’ has not quite eventuated as its early boosters had imagined. After a succession of false starts, the big mining deals that could have catapulted Mongolia into the wealthier heights of Asia’s development story simply haven’t happened, victims of populist nationalism, haphazard policy and, more recently, wrong-way commodity prices.

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